Helen in its heyday was home to over 1,000 people.
The Raleigh County coal camp bustled with multiple mines, a company store, a miner’s clubhouse and even a movie theater.
Today, like many of the coal camps in the area, Helen’s population has nearly gone away altogether, along with some of the prominent buildings of the town.
What is left are memories and a group of people who would like to see those memories preserved.
Some of those folks were at the town’s Miners Memorial Tuesday morning to install interpretive signs discussing Helen and the surrounding area’s history.
Six signs in total were installed thanks to a cooperative effort between the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and a local nonprofit, the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization, commonly called We Grow.
"This has been a long time coming,” said Traci Lewis, president of We Grow.
According to Lewis, the signage was years in the making and she hopes that it will help draw more visitors to the area.
Founded in 2004, We Grow aims at keeping alive the history and heritage of the Winding Gulf Coalfield region and has organized many events and projects, including the installation of the Miner’s Memorial on the site of Helen’s old company store.
Lewis isn’t the only one in her household involved; her husband John L. Lewis Jr. has also been part of We Grow since the beginning.
John Lewis was raised in Helen and the project is very personal for him.
“People don’t understand throughout this nation what a true coal mining community meant,” he said. “This was all family.”
According to John Lewis, families in the town traded each other for individual family specialties, often based on their nationalities, and relied on each other for support.
In the case of Lewis’ own family, which was Greek, it was baking bread.
According to the Helen native, the community involvement and the self-sustaining nature of a coal camp meant a tighter community bond. A fact that he reminisces about.
“I remember the vibrance as a young man,” John Lewis said.
Many of Lewis’s memories are based on his time with his grandfather who is featured on one of the interpretive signs.
“I remember as a child, I couldn’t have been 5 or 6 years old, going to that company store with my grandfather. I can remember it clear as day, an orange creamsicle Popsicle walking across this bridge and eating it with my grandfather,” John Lewis said in the exact location of the memory.
While personal, Lewis also views the region’s coal heritage as a central part of the American story.
“It wasn’t about coal-fired electric,” Lewis said. “It was about steel. Steel was what built this nation. All the big warships. All the tanks.”
Read the rest of this story at the Register Herald website.
A New Deal-era house in Arthurdale is better preserved thanks to a collaborative project between Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., and local AmeriCorps members.
On March 15, AmeriCorps members with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia worked with the Arthurdale Heritage community to apply UV protection film to the windows of the site’s historic house museum. This UV film will help ensure the longevity of artifacts inside the house, such as documents, photographs, textiles, and furniture, that are sensitive to light and changes in temperature.
The two-story Wagner-style house built in 1935 gives visitors a sense of life at Arthurdale, the nation’s first New Deal Subsistence Homestead Community. Established by the Roosevelt administration in 1933, Arthurdale provided jobs, education, and modern housing for impoverished and unemployed local people. It also served as a laboratory for new educational, industrial, and farming techniques. Arthurdale Heritage, Inc.,was formed in 1985 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the cultural heritage of historic Arthurdale, located in Preston County.
This hands-on service project brought together a number of AmeriCorps members from West Virginia. It was organized by Pamela Curtin, a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with Clio, a nonprofit website and mobile app developed by Marshall University that connects the public to historic and cultural sites.
“Arthurdale’s historic structures and artifacts have unique stories to tell,” says Curtin, who is based in Morgantown. “These stories are not only nationally-significant, but also personally meaningful to the families who lived and continue to live there. This project presented a wonderful opportunity to help preserve this history.”
Curtin coordinated the project with Nora Sutton, an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member serving with Arthurdale Heritage as a Museum Associate. “Collaborative projects like this one are so important to Arthurdale Heritage’s mission to preserve the structures and artifacts in our care,” says Sutton. “Applying this protective film to the house windows will help us care for unique textiles and furniture that were made here by original homesteaders. It was great to work with other AmeriCorps members dedicated to preserving the past.”
Both Curtin and Sutton are alumni of West Virginia University’s Public History MA program.
Several other AmeriCorps members volunteered for the project, including Rachel Niswander, Charlotte Riestenberg, Sydney Stapleton, and Jason Wright. Ed Turnley, Vice President of the Board of Directors and member of the Arthurdale Heritage Maintenance Committee, oversaw volunteer tasks, such as cleaning the windows and measuring, cutting, and applying the UV film. Turnley is also an Arthurdale homesteader descendant whose family lived not far from the house the volunteers worked on.
This project contributes to a larger effort by Arthurdale Heritage to preserve its historic structures, which also include community and administrative buildings, barns, a former gas station, and an iron forge.
Supplies for this project, including the professional UV film, were generously funded by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the state’s leading grassroots organization dedicated to the support and promotion of historic preservation. In addition to education, outreach, and advocacy, PAWV coordinates an AmeriCorps program that places volunteers with small museums, heritage tourism agencies, and main street groups.
AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency whose mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.
By Rachel Niswander, Preserve WV AmeriCorps serving at Happy Retreat
My name is Rachel Niswander and I am the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with Happy Retreat. One of my duties was to create an archive for the organization during my year of service. Over the course of ten years, Happy Retreat has accumulated plenty of donations and various documents, letters, and blueprints from a previous owner of the home. In order to sort, document, and archive all these items, I began archiving all these items into the museum archiving software Musarch.
I had previously used Musarch at an internship I had in college. This, along with the fact that Happy Retreat wouldn’t have to pay anything to obtain it or set it up, was the primary reason I chose this archiving software. After I set up Musarch, I began the process of putting all the items that Happy Retreat has acquired into the software. I first began with the McCabe items.
The McCabes owned Happy Retreat in the 1950s and conducted a substantial restoration of the home. We have in our collection blueprints showing the alterations and modifications done to the home as well as correspondence and letters between the McCabes and the architect. The blueprints are incredibly helpful for Happy Retreat to have, as they show every change and alteration that the McCabes did to the home. These include putting in a bathroom, a curved staircase in the west wing of the house, bookshelves in the parlors, and other small alterations throughout the house.
Other items put into the collection are furniture and books. Most of the furniture was either donated by board members or purchased from estates. Happy Retreat's books, however, came from donations. With over 300 history books donated, this took up the bulk of my time. It was a difficult task not to read every single book that I archived!
In my final weeks of service with Happy Retreat, I set up a training session for interested Happy Retreat board members to learn the software and continue the efforts to maintain Happy Retreat’s archive.
PRESERVE WV AMERICORPS MEETS WITH DR. EMORY KEMP - ESTEEMED WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR EMERITUS AND PAWV CO-FOUNDER
Written by Samuel Richardson, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving at the West Virginia & Regional History Center (Samuel (left) pictured above with Dr. Emory Kemp (right))
It was no surprise that I was going to face some serious challenges in my Year of Service with AmeriCorps. I would be examining and arranging the life’s work of Dr. Emory Kemp, with the goal of making his 300 box collection of blueprints, maps, restoration project reports, structural analysis papers, drawings, correspondence, and much more accessible to patrons of the West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC). Public History, as an academic field, was foreign territory for me. However, as a graduate from the Public Administration program at West Virginia University, I was prepared to tackle any project that served the public’s interest. The transdisciplinary shift was a challenge, but complimented my “Clifton Strength’s Finder” examination which discovered my strength in adaptability.
Transdisciplinary shifts into public history are not unheard of, as according to Dr. Kemp, the structural mechanics PhD, was moved from civil engineering to the History Department at West Virginia University. Despite resistance in his early educational career to studying history as an academic discipline, he choose to remain in engineering. His resistance however, was no match for the orders of West Virginia University President James G. Harlow, who would implore Dr. Kemp lead the newly founded Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology in the Department of History, not engineering.
This was one of the many anecdotes that developed in the Monday afternoon meeting with the retired academic stalwart. Perhaps, in the process of officially retiring, as he promises his newest developing book on the Big Sandy River will be his last.
The materials in the collection were assembled to support projects over Dr. Kemp’s 50 year career. The materials were arranged in a manner with no particular emphasis on a preserved original order. Dr. Kemp stated that he expected the professional expertise of the faculty and staff at the WVRHC to arrange the materials in a fashion that would make his work most accessible to researchers.
Kemp also agreed with the proposed series arrangement, where WVRHC faculty member, Jane LaBarbara, and I hope to divide the collection into three major series, Kemp’s Personal Library, Publications by Kemp, and finally, “Subject Files” or “Research Projects.”
In hopes of understanding which areas of the large collection are appropriate to highlight and exhibit, Dr. Kemp will provide Jane and I with a list of 35 projects that were of noteworthy accomplishment and could be listed as potential engineering breakthroughs. Some of which, were his role in the construction of the Sydney Opera House, and saving the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company potentially millions of dollars, by engineering a way for them to integrate new equipment without completely destroying an older building. Kemp hopes to sit down with LaBarbara and me to discuss each of the projects in further detail.
By Sharell Harmon, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
What started as a conversation, quickly turned into my first project as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member…
My name is Sharell Harmon, and I am a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV). My term with Preserve WV started August 28, 2017. This is my third contract with AmeriCorps, but my first contract serving in Historic Preservation.
I was extremely excited to take on my first historic preservation project at the Manos Theatre in Grafton, Taylor County. The purpose of this project was to create an inventory report regarding the condition of the theater's seats for the International Mother’s Day Shrine (current non-profit owners of the Manos). The Shrine requested an inventory report of the seats in the Manos Theatre with hopes to bid seats to donors for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation of the theater seats will bring the Shrine one step closer to re-opening this special place.
About the Manos Theatre
This theater has over the years operated under three different names. Originally known as, the Hippodrome, the theater was built by Messrs. Necessary, Cady and Hiehle and opened on August 12, 1912. The first show featured the Vaudeville acts the Great Henri French, dancer and impersonator; blackface performer Goff Phillips; the singing and dancing Church Sisters, as well as two photoplays. John Lester Bush, owner of the Dixie Theater also in Grafton, purchased the building and upon returning from World War I reopened it as The Strand.
The final incarnation, the Manos Theater opened June 27, 1949 with a grand inauguration beginning with a parade from the Post Office. The first show featured a cartoon, sports review, musical and the full-length film The Life of Riley. It was named for Michael Manos, President of the Elkins Theaters Co. which managed the theater. The Manos closed in 1995 after 46 years in business. Following a very brief reopening, the Manos closed for good in 1998.
The Preservation Work Day
On November 20, 2017— 14 AmeriCorps members from sponsor organizations like PAWV and Appalachian Forest Heritage Area partnered together with a local volunteer to participate in a preservation work day at the Manos Theatre Members and volunteers cleaned all theater seats, took inventory on each of the seats condition, and photographed every seat in the theater (which were utilized for the inventory report I created for the Shrine). All of the participants enjoyed a tour of both historic properties—the Shrine and the Manos Theatre. The project was a great success!
Thank you, to all volunteers that were involved with this Civic Service Project, the International Mother’s Day Shrine and Dottie at Biggies Restaurant in Grafton for providing lunch to the service members and the volunteer.
If you are interested in volunteering for a Preserve WV AmeriCorps project, contact Sharell at email@example.com.
Efforts to nominate a former coal-mining town in southern West Virginia to the National Register of Historic Places could spur economic growth there, according to a spokesman for three development agencies engaged in the effort.
Once a mining boomtown, Helen, with a population near 125 residents, is among the last coal camps that remain in the mountains southwest of Beckley, and financial incentives for historic rehabilitation there would be provided if the nomination succeeds.
According to Kyle Bailey, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, who is conducting the survey to nominate the community, financial incentives such as grants and tax credits will supplement the costs of expenditures needed for property repairs and improvements.
The nomination would also secure the community's status as historically important on official state and federal levels, he said.
"This would help homeowners and other property owners in Helen fund tasks such as replacing the roof, preserving the windows, and updating electrical systems," Bailey said.
"Helen could once again experience growth and expansion, especially in light of recreation initiatives, such as the development of hiking and ATV trails, and transportation initiatives, such as the completion of the adjacent Coalfield Expressway."
A joint effort by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, and the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization, the effort builds on projects already established in the town, including the development of a Coal Miner's Memorial Park and the stabilization of a historic apartment building there.
Helen was recently selected as a stop along the African American Heritage Auto Tour, sponsored in part by the coal-heritage authority, and wayside that interpret the town's history will soon be installed, Bailey said.
Like other camps of the Winding Gulf Coalfield, Helen experienced rapid growth through the early and mid-20th century. Mines there produced some of the highest quantities of coal in the state, and by 1940 almost 2,000 people lived in the town.
Bailey, who grew up in a coal camp in nearby Amigo, is a member of the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program, a statewide service initiative established to help communities capture their history and preserve beloved West Virginia landmarks.
My name is Kiersten White, and I am serving as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, WV. I was raised in Preston County, a place ingrained with my family roots. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outdoors, reading, and exploring the Smithsonian with my family. I was very involved in my high school’s marching band, choir, and theatre program. After graduation, I toured and performed in six European countries with the Sound of America Honor Chorus and Band. Afterwards, I attended Berea College in Berea, KY for two years and then received my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Millikin University in Illinois. During college, I was once again able to sing abroad in Spain and Portugal. Throughout my travels, my love and passion for history and embracing the world around me has grown significantly.
During my senior year of college, I was unsure of what path I wanted to take with my degree. My cousin suggested applying for AmeriCorps as she had spent a few years serving. Because of her suggestion, I spent the last year serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Frontier Nursing University in Kentucky. While there, I worked with a summer service learning program and created projects and events around the concept of healthy futures. Near the end of my service year, I felt West Virginia calling me back home. I wanted to find a position where I could work in theatre but also embrace my other passions. Thankfully, I stumbled upon the Preserve WV AmeriCorps positions and found just what I was looking for. During my year at Carnegie Hall, I will be working on archiving, developing a script for tours, gathering stories, and many other tasks. I have not had a lot of opportunity to travel the southern part of the state and look forward to immersing myself in its unique qualities and people. Here’s to a new adventure!
By Jason Wright, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
For my Great Story, I would like to talk about my “Seniors Meet Seniors” oral history recording project. The seeds of this project were planted during a discussion my partner and I were having over dinner one night late in December, 2016. I was bemoaning the average age of the people that were volunteering at the West Augusta Historical Society in Mannington, WV, where I serve; they are all so old, and yet they all had such interesting stories to tell about how life in the area used to be back in the “Good Old Days.” The problem was there were few people there to listen to those stories. I realized that there needs to be an active involvement by the youngsters of the area in the society, so that they can learn about those days. If they can get involved, then there might be a future for the society. But how to get them involved? My girlfriend told me that nowadays, high school students need to get experiential learning credits in order to graduate. They get these credits by performing community service.
And so, with the new year, I began the process of trying to contact the people that had the power to okay this project. I was aiming for late April recording dates and I thought that allowing sixteen weeks to get everything prepared would have been enough time. Everyone I spoke to loved the idea, including the society’s Board of Directors; Diana Hayes, who is the Activities Coordinator for Marion County Senior Citizens; North Marion High School counselor Alex Eddy (who told me, “I think this sounds like an awesome project. I will pass this along with some of our history teachers”); and Bill Stalnaker, the North Marion teacher that was to be in charge of recruiting students. Unfortunately, due to the busy schedules of both Mr. Cox and Mr. Stalnaker, it was not until March 8 that I was able to personally meet with Mr. Stalnaker and describe what I wanted to do in some detail. He loved the ideas that I had, and, as a graduate of Fairmont State College’s Folklore Studies program, set up a meeting with Pat Musick, the Director of the Frank & Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center at Fairmont State. Their enthusiasm for my project let me know that this was something that could create of lot of good in the community. They even suggested that the recording event become an annual thing.
Because Mr. Stalnaker teaches the Newspaper class at North Marion, and because of his background in folklore and music, he would be able to provide the recording devices. All recordings and transcripts would be archived at the society’s Wilson School Museum, as well as at North Marion and Fairmont State. All that was left to do was recruit the students and the senior citizens.
And that was where I ran into difficulties. While Mr. Stalnaker was to recruit students, I was to find senior citizens to be interviewed. I spoke at all three Marion County Senior Citizen centers. I gave an interview with the Fairmont Times West Virginian newspaper. I put up flyers advertising my search. I mentioned it to all and sundry that I met in Mannington and elsewhere. Everyone I spoke to was very nice, but not very helpful. In Fairview, there was a woman who brought me her self-published book on the history of Fairview, but she did not want to be interviewed. There was no response from anyone from the Fairmont Senior Center. But the newspaper article and the Mannington Senior Center netted me a few wonderful individuals. Those interviews lasted for an hour each. Every time the senior citizen would finish talking about something, they would remember some other little detail, either about that subject or about something that might have taken place across the street from where the original subject of conversation took place. These people knew so many details about life in Mannington. Where the stores where, who the proprietors were, their ethnicity. What the cars were like. What people ate. So many memories were unlocked. It was wonderful to listen to them speak. After each interview, the senior citizens would talk about how they wanted to be a part of the recording process again, because they knew that there were more stories they could tell.
I feel that now that several respected members of the community have done this, the next time there is an oral history project, I will be able to get more response from the community. And there will be another recording event, because everyone I spoke to realizes the importance of collecting everyday people’s stories about things that the history books do not really ever speak about.
By Edward Pride IV, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
After more than a year of renovation and planning, a celebrated Clarksburg landmark is once again open to the public. Waldomore, an antebellum-era mansion situated on the grounds of the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, has served the residents of Clarksburg as a library, museum, archives, and civic meeting and performance space for more than 80 years. To commemorate the reopening of the building, a grand reopening reception and open house was held to provide guests a much-anticipated tour of the site.
Originally constructed in 1842 by Clarksburg businessman and Virginia State Senator Waldo P. Goff, the two-story brick mansion served as the residence of the Goff family for nearly a century. In 1930, Waldo’s daughter, May Goff Lowndes, donated the structure to the City of Clarksburg to be used as a library and museum. From 1930 to 1975, Waldomore operated as home of the Clarksburg Public Library. After the completion of a new library building in 1975, Waldomore was repurposed as a center for historic and genealogical research as well as a public meeting and event space.
In October 2015, the City of Clarksburg was awarded a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts for the purpose of restoring Waldomore. The project, totaling more than $500,000, included the replacing of electrical systems, installation of new period light fixtures and chandeliers, lead and asbestos abatement, plaster repair, new carpeting and paint, and restoration of exterior doors. Between April and December of 2016, contractors from Allegheny Restoration were hard at work returning the building to its former glory.
Upon completion of the renovation, Waldomore and library staff began the process of returning collections and furnishings back to the site. During the restoration, Waldomore staff embarked on the arduous task of creating new policies and operating procedures, the laying out of new floor plans, and the processing and cataloging of artifacts and materials for their eventual return. The once in a lifetime opportunity allowed for staff to institute much needed changes to better serve patrons as well as allow for the continued preservation of collections for future generations.
Prior to the grand reopening, a private reception was held for those who assisted and contributed to the project as a thank you for their tireless effort and support. Guests in attendance included the Mayor and City Council of Clarksburg, the Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the Director of the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, and various contractors and engineers who worked on the project. During the reception, several speakers addressed the attendees and spoke of the importance of Waldomore to Clarksburg and historic preservation in the Mountain State.
On June 11th, Waldomore reopened its doors once again for its grand reopening reception. During the festivities, city representatives and the public were able to tour the newly restored structure as well as partake in light entertainment and refreshments. Waldomore and library staff were on hand to assist patrons as well as provide information on the building and project. Comments ranged from memories of Waldomore when it was once a library to compliments on the quality of the renovation. In total, more than 150 guests participated in the reception. Thanks to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, City of Clarksburg, the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library, and countless individuals, the success of this renovation will allow for Waldomore to continue providing quality service and research for decades to come.
I am from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and share a hometown with children’s television educator Fred Rogers, professional golfer Arnold Palmer, and even the first banana split. History, therefore, was an ever-present and meaningful part of growing up. I soon realized there were so many stories from the past left unwritten. When I attended Saint Vincent College for history, I wrote my senior thesis on Powdermill Nature Reserve’s bird banding lab, the longest continually-running station of its kind in the United States. Having visited and worked at Powdermill for many years, I was excited to document its history and craft an interesting narrative. I also developed an exhibit on Rachel Carson at the McCarl Coverlet Gallery on campus. Thanks to these projects and my academic mentors at Saint Vincent, I discovered the worlds of public history and environmental history. At West Virginia University, I worked with professors and fellow graduate students on public history projects such as the West Virginia glass industry and Jack Roberts Park. A project on Morgantown’s Sunnyside neighborhood soon developed into my MA thesis, which looked at changes in the neighborhood’s culture, housing, and approach to development. In the summer of 2016, I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where I worked on education programs, exhibit development, and book projects. Furthermore, I spent a few weeks of this summer traveling Europe with my sister and witnessing an incredible array of historic sites, cultures, and stories. Whether I was spending time in the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, working on “America’s Front Yard” in the country’s most-visited museum, or traveling the world, I have learned a lot about the power of place. My studies over the past few years have solidified a passion for cultural landscapes and understanding sense of place and identity.
Clio turns the physical, ever-changing landscapes of our world into a virtual museum, where we can document and discover the past around us. There are currently around 30,000 Clio entries on historical sites, museums, monuments, landmarks, and other sites of cultural or historical significance. One of my favorite features of Clio is the Time Capsule category, which encourages users to create entries for sites that no longer exist. Each Clio entry includes a concise, scholarly narrative and informative resources such as photographs, maps, primary sources, books, articles, videos, and credible websites. These entries are created by individuals, organizations, teachers, and students, building not only a collection of entries but a community of engaged users. I first learned about Clio and the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program through my colleagues at WVU. I heard nothing but accolades, which motivated me to pursue AmeriCorps after graduation. I am thrilled to serve with a nonprofit that is promoting historical scholarship and community engagement on a creative digital platform. I also appreciate the philosophy of its founder, Dr. David Trowbridge of Marshall University, that success is not measured by clicks or downloads but by interaction with historical and cultural resources. This commitment to education and public accessibility gives so much meaning to my everyday work.
Preserve WV Stories